Wednesday, November 12, 2014

National Philanthropy Day

There are so many inspirational words that we use during National Philanthropy Day: generosity, selflessness, dedication, leadership and charity, to name just a few. All are descriptive and accurate of what philanthropy is all about.

But there’s one term—one idea—that, for me, gets to the heart of why we celebrate National Philanthropy Day.


To serve: a cause, a mission, a memory, a wish, a person or a legacy.

I don’t know if many people consciously think about service when they give, volunteer or otherwise engage in philanthropy. Maybe they’re “giving back” or “paying it forward” or just want to help others.
But to me, service is the most accurate term that describes what they’re doing. Taking our needs and resources and serving someone or something else—a cause that is bigger than ourselves.

It’s fitting that National Philanthropy Day falls right around Veterans Day, one of the most important days we have to remember those fought and died in the name of service to this country and the ideals of freedom and democracy. It’s fitting that National Philanthropy Day falls right in the middle of what we have termed “the giving season,” a critical time for giving, volunteering and service.

And so on National Philanthropy Day, we honor those who serve our communities and our world through philanthropy—in countless celebrations across North America, including our inaugural National Philanthropy Day Honors in Washington, D.C.

I’m reminded of the children of A. Gary Anderson, who serve the legacy of their father’s philanthropy through the work of our outstanding foundation, the A. Gary Anderson Family Foundation.
I’m reminded of Princeton Carter, one of our youth honorees, who serves homeless veterans and many others in his native New Orleans.

I’m reminded of the service of Senator Terry Mercer and MP Geoff Regan, who led the charge to create a permanent National Philanthropy Day in Canada as a message to all people about the importance of giving and volunteering.

And I hope that our new Congress—recently elected here in the U.S.—will follow in their footsteps and remember to serve all of our communities and our people.

Whatever the cause, whatever the reason, whatever the activity—thank you for your service. On National Philanthropy, let’s celebrate the incredible impact that we all have in the world through philanthropy and service.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Holiday Solicitations and Donor Expectations

A recent column in the Ottawa Citizen expresses dissatisfaction with amount of charity solicitations that are being sent as the holiday season approaches.

On one hand, the general tone of the piece highlights the lack of awareness and recognition of the professionalism that fundraising now entails. Fundraising is a profession, conducted by trained professionals, who conduct fundraising in a certain way because our research and body of knowledge has shown us what’s effective.

Yes, direct mail solicitations during the holidays have been sent for years, but they continue to be sent because they’re successful. Charities do what works—just like any for-profit company would. If they didn’t, they would be out of business—again, just like a for-profit organization would.

On the other hand, I can understand the reader’s frustration. As fundraising professionals, we need to be working to better understand our donors and track what they want. This reader clearly wants to be contacted via email, and there are too many organizations that aren’t practicing up to the standards of the profession. Giving donors preferences about how they want to be contacted—and honoring those preferences—is Fundraising 101. But too many charities still aren’t seeing our donors as people, and simply as a way to get a quick gift over the holidays.

We have to communicate—both internally and externally—about our standards and the work we do. We need to tell the public what we really do—that’s it not a guessing game and pure luck, but that we learn and research and plan and executive complicated plans to reach out to people. And we need to tell our colleagues what we SHOULD be doing—that we are only as strong as our weakest link, and if we’re not all abiding by our practice and standards, then we are hurting not just ourselves but the entire profession and all of philanthropy.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Better Together

As a Scot, I closely followed the recent referendum on Scottish independence and was pleased to see that a majority of my native country wanted to stay in the United Kingdom.

For me, it’s a situation that is somewhat analogous to many others, to Texas and the United States, or the relationships within multi-national organisations – like our own AFP: states and provinces that possess their own unique strengths and culture, but at the same time share similar traditions and connections with another country.

Could Scotland go independent? Yes. Would we better off? No, I don’t think so, and probably much worse off. We do share many ideas and traditions, to say nothing of history, with the rest of the United Kingdom, and it’s those similarities that are more important than our differences. The slogan for the referendum rang true: We are better together.

How does this all relate to nonprofits? For the last few years, the nonprofit sector has been united against proposals to reduce the value of the charitable deduction. Through the Charitable Giving Coalition—which AFP helped found—the sector has stood together in fighting against the White House and members of Congress that see charities as just another source of revenue.

That’s something that needs to continue even as we begin to push forward on other issues, such as new tax incentives for giving. We may have different priorities in terms of incentives or what other nonprofit matters Congress should address next. But we will be far more effective if we remain united and continue to work together. The adage that “a rising tide lifts all boats” is an accurate one.

It would be easy for the sector to drift apart—sometimes it seems that we only truly come together when a crisis emerges. But this time, we need to have the foresight to stay united and work as a coalition, even if we aren’t always addressing the particular issues our organizations favor.

We share far more similarities than differences, and we ARE much better together.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What Does the Code Mean to You?

50 years ago, AFP created its first code of ethics.

It had four provisions related to: conducting yourself by generally accepted standards of truth, accuracy, fair dealing and good taste;” protecting privacy of anonymous donors; prohibiting commissions and percentage-based compensation; and abiding by all appropriate laws and regulations.

Our current code has 25 standards covering everything from presentation of information and use of funds to conflict of interest and privacy. AFP has become the leader in fundraising ethics, and our code remains one of the few in the world that’s enforceable.

But it’s not the number of standards that’s important—or its enforcement policy—but what the code means to each of us that’s truly critical.

Ethics isn’t just a list of do’s and don’t’s. It’s not a scorecard of ethical behavior. It’s guidance. It can be a source of inspiration. It’s a statement of our values and what we want society to look like. It can mean many different things to each of us at different points in our professional careers.

As we celebrate 50 years of the AFP Code of Ethics, we celebrate what the code has meant—and will continue to mean—to each of us. Each standard has helped to shape and define the profession and our body of work.

And I’d like to hear from you about what the code has meant in your work. Did it serve as guidance in a situation involving your board. Did it inspire a donor to give? Did you work out a situation with a donor using the standards? Or has it been something even more personal to you along your career path?

Let us know as we celebrate the 50th anniversary. Comment below or send your story to

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


When we talk about philanthropy, it’s often the “what” of giving and volunteering that we focus on: what we gave, what we did and what the impact was.

But often it’s the “why” of philanthropy that’s most inspiring. Why do we get involved? Is it because of one person—perhaps a family member or friend? Someone in the news who inspires you? Or was it a situation where you suddenly realized that you had to get involved? Why are we compelled to help others?

National Philanthropy Day

The “why” of philanthropy is why AFP put together its National Philanthropy Day® contest this year: Who is Your Philanthropic Idol? We wanted to know who—or what—inspires you to be a volunteer, donor, advocate or helper.

It’s simple to get involved: just post a short, one-minute video to our website by Oct. 7 explaining who your philanthropic idol and why he, she or it inspires you. Starting Oct. 10, we’ll have public voting, and we’ll announce the top five most popular videos (which each earn the submitter $500 toward their favorite charity) on Nov. 15, National Philanthropy Day®.

2014 NPD Award Finalists
Also on the website, you can learn about AFP’s own 16 Philanthropic Idols—the finalists for our international awards program—and why they give. From this list of 16, we’ll be honoring at our National Philanthropy Day® Honors event on Nov. 15 in Washington, D.C.

So make your video today and tell us the “why” of your philanthropy. Everyone has their own story for giving and volunteering. Share your story of why you are inspired to change the world.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The #IceBucketChallenge

Chances are, you’ve heard about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. At this point, how could you not?

The challenge involves people getting doused with buckets of ice water on video, posting the video to social media and then nominating others to do the same. If you refuse to take the challenge, then you’re asked to make a donation to the ALS charity of your choice.

As of this writing, the ALS Association has received over $15 million in donations—compared to $1.7 million during the same time last year—and more than 300,000 new donors! There are more than a million ice bucket videos now on Facebook.

Obviously, the campaign is a success, but at the same time let’s not make more of this than it is. We’re not seeing a fundamental change in the nature of fundraising—it’s a clever use of social media. The challenge is like sponsoring a friend—we do it because of the connection, not necessarily the cause.

Hopefully the ALS Association will make some new long-term supporters through the challenge. But that’s going to require a lot of donor cultivation on its part—and that’s the sort of work that all of us are doing. There’s also been some discussion around whether the challenge is draining money away from other causes. All campaigns and solicitations require people to make choices, and this is no different. I personally compartmentalize this sort of approach and don’t regard it as part of my overall philanthropic budget—and I think a lot of people do the same. In the end, we’re talking $15 million compared to the overall $300 billion in charitable giving annually.

The #IceBucketChallenge isn’t changing the nature of our work, but it does demonstrate what we can do if we strike the right tone while taking a reasonable risk with our outreach.

(Editor’s Note: The total is now up to $32 million and counting!)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Some Thoughts on Don Rizzo: Colleague, Friend and Fundraiser

“What makes a great fundraiser?”

If you were faced with this question you would possibly think of someone who raises a lot of money, runs groundbreaking campaigns, develops innovative ideas and has great rapport with donors and supporters.

I wouldn’t disagree with any of those but I think there are other qualities we often forget or tend to give short shrift. Modesty, for instance. For after all, as fundraisers, we are not the focal point—it is our donors and the beneficiaries that together, we serve. And since fundraising is a team effort, what of loyalty to the team and letting others shine? What about giving back and being generous in spirit and camaraderie?

I mention this because Don Rizzo, CFRE, a long-time fundraiser and member, and former chair of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy, died this week. Don was a fabulous fundraiser, running huge campaigns for the University of Louisville, University of Hartford, Butler University and Loyola University, among others. So much so that he was named AFP’s 2010 Outstanding Fundraising Professional.

But when I heard of his death this weekend, I immediately thought of those qualities, not his fundraising exploits. Don was a quiet leader, quick to give credit and always ready to highlight the work of others. For him, it was all about getting the job done by bringing together the best possible expertise and resources, regardless of who got the accolades, and creating a culture of philanthropy and collegiality.

Maybe those qualities—humility, loyalty, compassion and camaraderie—aren’t always top of the list in today’s society, but I know they make for a very fine and effective fundraiser. They’re qualities we should all seek to emulate, both in our professional and personal lives.

Thank you, Don, for your service to AFP, the organizations where you worked, and the fundraising profession. We will continue to follow in your footsteps and seek to live up to the high standards and qualities you set for yourself and your work.